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What is “Kennel Cough?”
“Kennel Cough” is the common term for a combination of respiratory tract infectious grouped under the heading Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (ITB.) The most common symptom of ITB is a dry, honking cough – sometimes severe enough to make a patient gag or vomit. Some dogs may develop nasal discharge and sneezing, and the most severely affected can develop infection in the lungs producing pneumonia. There are at least eight different infectious causes of Kennel Cough:
Canine parainfluenza virus
Canine distemper virus
Canine herpes virus
As the name Kennel Cough implies, all eight of these agents are spread by both direct contact between dogs as well as through airborne transmission of the virus and/or bacteria.
The most common cause of kennel cough is usually infection with two of the above agents – the Bordetella bacteria and parainfluenza virus. The virus is thought to initiate the infection by disabling part of the dog’s respiratory tract immune defense, allowing the Bordetella bacteria to invade and infect afterwards.
How can you tell if your dog has Kennel Cough? Typically there is a history of being around other dogs within the last two weeks – either boarding at a kennel, going to doggy daycare or a dog park, a trip to the groomer or pet store, or even passing and sniffing another dog on the street. Most of the time, a healthy adult dog will then develop a dry cough that within a few days progresses to an almost continual hacking cough – they often have normal energy levels and appetites.. Puppies or older dogs are more at risk for developing pneumonia, and may produce a wetter type cough, as well as becoming lethargic and not eating. At trip to your veterinarian is the only way to be sure the cough isn’t caused by another cause such as heart failure, collapsing trachea or allergies. Often the diagnosis is made by feeling the a patient’s windpipe, which in most Kennel Cough dogs will cause it to cough due to the inflammation caused by the infection. If the patient is showing signs of fever, lethargy or a wet cough, x-rays may be taken to determine if there is pneumonia. We also have newer tests to confirm infection with most of the 8 pathogens listed above, so depending on situations like canine influenza outbreaks your veterinarian may take nasal, ocular and/or oral swabs to send out for confirmatory tests.
Your veterinarian will determine treatment based on the severity of your dog’s symptoms. Most dogs will get better on their own, but the cough can easily persist for two weeks. Some dogs with other conditions like collapsing trachea may never fully stop coughing after infection. Cough suppressant medications are often given to alleviate the discomfort of continual coughing. Anti-inflammatories may also be given to decrease the sensitivity of the airway. Dogs with a severe cough,cough or any dog with a fever will often be given antibiotics. If a dog has developed pneumonia, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization and a procedure to obtain fluid from the lungs to culture the bacteria to determine the correct antibiotic for treatment.
Unfortunately there is no way to 100% prevent Kennel Cough. Not all of the pathogens that cause it have vaccines, and even humans who have been around other dogs can potentially carry some of these infections back home to their own dogs who may not have been in direct contact with another dog.
Vaccinations that do exist are fairly effective. Bordetella vaccinations may be given by your veterinarian either orally, nasally or injectably. Parainfluenza vaccination is often part of the core DHPP vaccine and also comes in the intranasal Bordetella vaccine. Canine Influenza vaccines are also available, although at this time we are unsure how effective they are as new strains of the virus are emerging.
Bordetella vaccines as recommended by AAHA1 guidelines should be given once yearly to any dog whothat comes into contact with other dogs ,dogs, be it frequent boarding, occasional grooming or weekly trips to the dog park. If a dog is going into a kennel and has not received the vaccine within 6 months, a booster 5 days prior to boarding is recommended to try to boost the immune system before being around a large number of other dogs.
It should be noted that no version of the Bordetella vaccine is fully effective at preventing infection. Any dog who has been vaccinated can still be infected, however, the chance of developing serious disease such as pneumonia is much lower and the length of time they are affected by the cough will be shorter than if they were unvaccinated. Part of this reason may be that may pets experience stress when at a kennel or groomer and as a consequence suffer decreased immune function. Many pet owners have the misconception that the vaccine is “bullet-proof” and are upset when their vaccinated dog comes down with kennel cough after boarding.
1 American Animal Hospital Association - https://www.aaha.org/public_documents/professional/guidelines/caninevaccineguidelines.pdf